On Saturday, February 1 2014 I was joined by half of Calgary and part of Deadmonton for a ski / snowshoe ascent of Heather Ridge in Skoki – behind the Lake Louise ski hill in Banff National Park. Ok – it wasn’t quite half of Calgary, but close! It started with Steven, Wietse and I and ended with Steven, Wietse, Raf, Andrea, Mike, Sonny, Spencer, Brandon and myself. We met up in the Skoki Lodge parking lot in chilly temps of -28 degrees Celsius. Yikes. After laying up it was time to warm up with a ski up the ski out from the Lake Louise Ski hill. The last time I was on this road was way back in September 2005 when cousin Jon and I managed to knock off all the Kane scrambles in Skoki within a 72 hour period.
Any time you see the keywords “ski” and “bushwhack” in the same trip report you should never ever try to repeat it yourself. You’ve been warned! 🙂 As part of his Opal 35 Project, Kev Barton had his eyes fixed on a winter ascent of either the main peak of “Opoca” or it’s eastern outlier, known locally as “East Opoca” or “Elpoca Creek Hill” by Bob Spirko. Since we were attempting an unknown peak in winter, via a tight approach valley I knew that our odds of summiting were very low, but I didn’t really care. This is the sort of trip that’s done for the adventure, not the summit. We got some adventure all right… On hindsight we made two blunders which cost us the peak.
After snowshoeing Coyote Hills the day before, Raf and I decided that Junction Hill looked too tempting to leave it alone for long. We both returned on Sunday, January 19 to see what it’s summit would offer for views. Ironically we took different routes and drove separately – never even running into each other en route! This was not the intention. When Raf told me that Kev and him were going to attempt Junction Hill on Sunday, I assumed he meant Kev Barton. I agreed to meet at the trailhead since it’s easier for me to bomb down hwy 2 and go past High River and Longview from that direction than go through Calgary. When Kev Papke called me at 08:30 as I was driving past High River already, I realized that I should have asked which Kev. Oh well. (Kev Papke and I can usually carpool together.)
On Saturday, January 18 2014 I was joined by a gaggle of friends for a snowshoe trip under an extremely warm, winter sun. Due to high avalanche risks all over the Rockies (all the way to the coast actually), we decided on a relatively low angle and hopefully snow free ascent. We scored on one of our objectives at least. Due to a mix-up with some of Marko’s friends, Raf, Wietse, Andrea and I ended up breaking trail to the summit with Marko, Amelie and company following. We decided that this was our anniversary present for Marko and Amelie since they just got engaged.
You know it’s not a very interesting trip when it takes me a few weeks to write it and the main photo is from the drive to the trailhead… 🙂 Honestly, there isn’t much to recommend the snowshoe trip up the North Ridge of Mount Buller, other than a decent view from the top and some good sweating (and swearing?!) on the way up. I drove up the Spray Lakes road under a gorgeous sunrise but from there the day went downhill. I couldn’t find any old tracks up the north ridge and ended up in knee deep, unconsolidated crap for two hours before realizing there was an old track about 100 meters to my right!
Just before Christmas 2013, our family did a 3 day, 2 night snowshoe trip into the Elk Lakes ACC hut in Elk Lakes Provincial Park, BC. In August 2012 I took the kids on a backpacking trip to the hut but we’d never visited in the winter before. The route is fairly obvious for snowshoers.
After skiing up Healy Pass Peak the day before, I decided to take the family on a snowshoeing trip on Sunday, December 15 in preparation for our trek to the Elk Lakes ACC hut in one week. Bob Spirko indicates that the elevation gain is only around 300 meters on Gypsum Ridge so I figured this was a good candidate to bag a peak and get the family out. I also liked the fact that we’d be in the trees because the day was shaping up to be fairly cloudy and windy – but warm.
On Saturday, December 14 2013 Wietse and I continued a tradition of going to the Healy Pass area one week prior to a hut ski trip. A year previous we also skied the pass on a grey and unassuming day and this day wouldn’t be much different. The snow conditions were a bit thin down low, but once we worked our way to the lower pass meadows there was quite a bit of snow.
With an impending snow storm and cold weather ahead, I decided to take advantage of a warm start to December with a snowshoe up to the Mount Kidd fire lookout and possibly a high point further up the ridge. I decided to call that high point, Mount Kidd Junior in the taste of naming every bump in the Rockies a “junior” of some other peak. You can laugh all you want, but I earned this summit.
After enjoying a wonderful day on Missinglink Mountain the day before, I found out that the new ring road around the east side of Calgary was completed. This meant a very quick and easy way for me to get down south now (avoiding Deerfoot Trail) and I wanted to try it out. I decided to head back down to the Sheep River area for another shot at a front-range summit, this time Mount Hoffman. The Stoney Trail freeway worked wonderfully and in about an hour from the NE edge of Calgary I was driving past the Kananaskis sign already!
On Friday, November 22 2013 I decided to mosey my way down to Sheep River Provincial Park for a shot at a front range peak that had caught my interest when Bob Spirko did it a few years previous. It’s been a while since I was down this way and I forgot how striking the peaks in the Sheep River area are – especially on the drive into the park. The weather was a chilly -14 in Calgary but by the time I got to the parking area along the road it was only -2 in a very warm sunshine!
Most trip reports on Association Peak wax on and on about the length and wasted height gain involved in a relatively low lying and insignificant front range summit. Knowing this, I’ve never been in a hurry to attempt it – there always seems to be better and more exciting options! Well – on Friday, October 25 2013 it was finally my turn to discover the delights of Association Peak and it’s approach. I was joined by Wietse and Bill. Inviting Bill along on any excursion to the mountains is always a good idea – especially if there’s any ambiguity about the route.
Wietse and I decided to take advantage of a nice day on Friday, October 11 just before the long weekend with an easy scramble up Roberta Peak near the Highwood Pass area in Kananaskis Country. The day started off exciting when we saw 4 grizzlies digging for breakfast along highway 40! Thank goodness they weren’t anywhere near our trail head or we may have switched objectives.
In order to ascend Mumm Peak, I was going to first ascend the Mumm Basin trail from the Robson Pass campground. This would get me above tree line on a good trail and by ascending it from the Robson Pass CG I would end up right under the easy “dragon back” leading to the snow slopes accessing the summit ridge. On the way back down I would continue on the Mumm Basin trail back to The Cave and Toboggan Falls before going back down to the Berg Lake campground.
After hiking up to Mumm Basin my plan was to ascend Mumm Peak via the dragon’s back that I’d noticed the day before while hiking down from Snowbird Pass and Titkana Peak. I spoke with a park Ranger at the Hargreaves shelter on Wednesday evening and he confirmed that this route would work. He also worried me a bit by mentioning a “5.3 chimney and possibly awkward traverse between the west and east summit with the fresh snow and ice”. A 5.3 chimney?! That didn’t sound like scrambling anymore.
In order to get to Titkana Peak (my objective for the day), I first had to hike to the Snowbird Meadows and perhaps Snowbird Pass. Considering the number of people that must do this hike each year, I was quite surprised to discover how few trip reports are out there on this relatively easy peak. I think part of the problem for most folks is how far the hike to Snowbird Pass is (over 20km return) and as it turns out – how much bloody work it is! The views from the pass and the approach are so good already that I think most people are content to turn back at the pass rather than continue up Titkana.
Every fall I try to get away for a solo trip to the mountains before work gets crazy for the fall and winter months. In 2012 I spent time finishing up the Nugara scrambles in the Castle Wilderness in southern Alberta but for 2013 I planned something a bit different than a peak bagging excursion. I’ve wanted to see Mount Robson up close and explore around Robson Provincial Park for years already and 2013 was going to be that year for me.
On Friday, September 20 2013, Jon and Tony joined Rod, Wietse and I for a trip down memory lane. Way back in 2005 we had done the Hawkins Horseshoe in Waterton and this year everything aligned so we could finally do another fall scramble together. I grew up about 100 meters from Jon and Tony (we are cousins) back in Carman, Manitoba and it’s always fun to reminisce about our youth. We arrived at the Moraine Lake parking lot just in time to snag a parking spot (09:00 and it was already filling fast). Apparently the next day, Lake Louise officials were closing the parking lot due to crazy traffic and implementing a restricted bus schedule instead.
After a successful summit bid on Catacombs Mountain we woke up on Saturday with lots of energy to tackle our next objective – crossing two passes before attempting to summit Fortress Mountain via her southwest slopes. UPDATE 2015: The bridge across the Athabasca River, near the Athabasca Crossing campground collapsed in 2014 and there are no plans to replace it. Rumor has it that the Athabasca River can be crossing roughly 1km upstream of the old bridge location but I haven’t verified this yet. This renders accessing the Fortress Lake area very difficult on foot.
Eric is great at planning aggressive and remote mountain adventures. He spends hours on his web site, planning and scheming up new approaches, routes and summits to bag. This trip was no different. Using photos of Catacombs from other peaks, he scouted out a route up the south flank of the mountain that looked to be scrambling to the summit glacier cap. From there it would be a bit of an unknown to travel on the glacier to the summit – we had no idea if the glacier would be passable from our top-out point above the south face.
Our plan was to summit not only Willingdon, but also Crown Peak and Southeast Tower – two outliers of the main summit and impressive peaks on their own. Crown Peak is known to be very close to another 11,000er and I wanted to check my altimeter to see how close it could be. Because we were planning on the two additional summits, it made strategic sense to ascend the south ridge route on Willingdon, rather than the normal west ridge route.
After enjoying a spectacular summit on Mount Willingdon it was time to head over to two sub peaks (and separate peaks) to the south east of the main summit. These peaks both have unofficial names – Crown Peak and South Tower and should be considered somewhat official, considering that they are some work to attain and well over 100m vertical separates them from each other. What makes them very interesting is that they both measured over 11,000 feet on my GPS with Crown Peak coming in almost 40 feet over! On my calibrated altimeter watch only Crown stayed in the 11,000er club with South Tower falling just short. In the end – who cares? But the views from the summits make both these peaks worth the effort and they even have some short scrambling sections and route finding.
I’ve had plans for years involving a trip into the Devon Lakes area near the Siffleur River Valley and the head of the Clearwater River in eastern Banff National Park. My plans involved summits such as Dip Slope, Three Brothers, Clearwater and of course the 11,000er in the region, Willingdon. Originally the plan was to go in the fall when all the brilliant color was at full height but when an opportunity came up to go with the 3 amigos from Edmonton (Ben, Eric and Steven), I couldn’t say no.
Mount Murchison has been tempting Raf and I ever since we first got a really good look at her summit from across highway 93 while sipping Starbucks on Mount Sarbach in 2009. Already in 2008 my appetite for this mountain was wet by Andrew Nugara’s trip report of him and his brother’s ascent. Murchison is a huge massif, covering a main mountain with two summits plus 7 other towers which are adjacent to the two main summits. Something else that is fascinating about Murchison is that it’s listed height (3333m) is actually not the true height of her highest (SE) summit.
After years of dreaming what it would be like to climb Recondite, I finally managed to organize and trip with some great guys from Edmonton. Eric C, Ben N and Steven S all agreed to attempt the slog with me and we arranged for a 3 day trip, leaving the Helen Creek parking area on Friday, August 16 and hopefully returning on Sunday, August 18. I warned Hanneke before I left that it could be Monday before we made it back, depending on conditions.